Sacramento, California is a growing city, and it’s pricing itself as such. I just know there are other business travelers like me who can’t afford to live in California, but do the majority of their business in the Golden State. What I want to talk about is how to find decent hotels without breaking your own, or your employer’s, pocketbook, and without losing sleep due to lack of cleanliness, security, or comfort.
I travel to Sacramento from Portland, Oregon nearly every week, so I’ve had lots of opportunities to try out hotels in different parts of the surrounding area. I’ve found myself driving from thirty miles away from my job site just to save on the hotel bill. Of course, I’ve then cost the company in gas money, not to mention the waste of time! If you’re like me you might have a good ‘big picture’ view of these expenses while your employer is looking at each hotel receipt’s bottom line, and consequently hounding you to ‘keep it down’.
The main problem is that a DECENT hotel, let’s say a Hampton Inn, which tends to be clean, comfortable, friendly, and offers nice amenities (good breakfast, pool, fitness center, business center) will cost quite a bit more in Sacramento, or the Bay Area, than many other places. The average cost of a Hampton Inn, depending upon how far you get from downtown Sacramento, is about $140.
Its cousin, Hilton Garden Inn, tends to range $15-20 higher. Not bad for California, you might say. But your employer wants you to check on that Extended Stay down the street, and you’re not going for it. My employer has a general $80-$90 dollar ceiling, which might fly in the Midwest, but doesn’t translate to a decent stay out here on the west coast.
An AFFORDABLE hotel, according to your employer, will tend to be something like a Quality Inn, Best Western, Days Inn, or worse, and even mediocre hotels in this range can still cost upwards of $90/night.
While you might find a few gems in this range (such as the NEWER-built Comfort Suites (CS) line from the Quality Inn/ Comfort Inn chain (choicehotels.com), you’ll waste a lot of time with the trial and error method I’ve employed over the past 3 years. Without going into detail about each and every balanced hotel I’ve found (by balanced I mean quality without going over $100), I’ll lay down a few general tips. You can take it to your travel search engines, or specific hotel chain sites, from there:
1) I know some other writers have mentioned this, and it’s true: Go to the hotel’s website, or the hotel itself, to book the room. Expedia and some other sites may charge a fee, have old information available, or simply not give you the best rate. Go ahead and use Expedia or Orbitz to find the general ‘lay of the land’, but then go to the site to book the room. If you work on the fly’ like me, sometimes not knowing where you’ll be called to from one night to the next, take advantage of some good ol’ face to face and ask for the manager to see if they’ll haggle with you a bit.
2) Make use of your AAA, AARP, Corporate, or Government discount. AAA is pretty inexpensive, and it’s what I use. Besides the other benefits, most hotel chains will give you approximately a 10% discount per night on a room. That can really add up over the year. I’ve also succeeded, particularly in small communities, by touting the fact that I’m working in the new building down the street (I work in the Communications field), sometimes being specific, as that desk person, or manager, may just know that client you’re working with and give you at least the corporate discount.
3) Stay JUST outside the BIG city you’re working in. This applies to San Fran, San Jose, Sacramento, LA; anywhere, really. This is hit and miss, and you have to learn the neighborhoods in terms of crime and reputation, but by going a mere 10-15 miles outside the city proper, you can save yourself some cash, and possibly some city-noise headaches. One example in the Sacramento area right now is Elk Grove. It’s a growing area, but if you look hard, you can find some decent deals.
4) Get to know some managers, and if your schedule allows, check in late. Go ahead and practice that, “Hey, I just need a room to crash in for the next 10 hours, and my employer won’t let me spend over $90” speech. I’ve had plenty a hotel with some room (look for a fairly empty parking lot) offer me a room at or near the rate I want if it’s late (usually after 10 p.m.), if I look haggard enough, and if they can prevent me from going to the hotel across the street (or sometimes across the parking lot). Look for where a bunch of hotels (such as up Hwy 50, east of Sacramento) are grouped together and see if you can work them against each other. If they have a few empty rooms, and can even snag you at a discount, it’s really win-win.
5) Look for somewhat new, out of the way hotels in growing areas. One in particular that I find passable is the Hawthorn Suites Ltd. (Limited is the key…the regular one tends to be more expensive) at the Hazel Exit off Hwy 50 east of Sacramento. Hawthorn Suites is in the Hyatt and Extended Stay family, but tends to be bit nicer than Extended Stay. It has a kitchenette, fitness center, decent breakfast, and sits in a strangely quiet, secluded little area just off Hwy 50.
It’s about a 15-20 minute commute into downtown Sacramento; you just have to watch the traffic or get to know the low roads if you need to cruise that stretch during rush hour, which can be a bear.
6) Skip those nasty chains, and look into a private B&B;! While this may not sound cheaper, at first, I’ve had some luck. Particularly a ways east of Sacramento in Carson City, NV. After being severely disappointed by the quality’ of a Quality Inn in that town, I checked out the Hardman House, downtown on N. Carson St. The staff is friendly, rates are cheap (between $70-$80) rooms are clean, they have a wine and brownie reception time in the early evening, and it simply doesn’t feel like a gambling town’ hotel like most of its neighbors down the strip.
I’ll leave it at that for now. Feel free to share your own ideas about the Sacramento / NorCal area, or hotel living in general. Realize that while it’s a huge world of hotel chains out there, the human element can really work to your advantage.
Good luck out there. “I’ll leave my article up for ya…”